Climate change and flying


in Politics, Psychology, Space and flight, The environment, Travel

The question of climate change and flying has arisen for me again, based on some questions asked by other people.

While it has been extensively discussed on this site, the relevant posts are scattered and not easy for someone new to find. To remedy that – and to create a central thread for any future discussion – I am listing them here in chronological order:

My last air travel experience was when I visited Vancouver from 22 December 2009 to 7 January 2010. Since then, the choice not to fly because of its climate change impact has affected every aspect of my life, from the aspiration to see other places, to professional development at work and in school, to relations with family and friends, to loss of relationships with friends and instuctors at Oxford and UBC, to limiting opportunities to participate in activist actions and training.

I think it’s important to draw attention to the highly destructive behaviours which people have normalized and come to perceive as inevitable. In the long run, if humanity is to bring climate change under control, we are all probably going to travel a lot less, a lot more slowly, and for much more important reasons.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Milan May 8, 2016 at 4:14 pm

A couple of other relevant items:

A conference that is being conducted digitally to avoid the need for participants to fly

Kicking the Habit: Air Travel in the Time of Climate Change – Air travel is neither just nor sustainable. So how can environmental justice activists make a global difference?

. May 8, 2016 at 4:17 pm

Emissions of CO2 from all transport sectors currently account for about 22% of all global emissions of CO2 from fossil fuel use (IPCC, 1996a). In 1990, aviation was responsible for about 12% of CO2 emissions from the transport sector (see Figure 8-2) (Faiz et al., 1996; IPCC, 1996b; OECD, 1997a,b). Regional variations also occur, as shown in Figure 8-3 for North America. Consequently, aviation is currently responsible for about 2% of total global emissions of CO2 from the use of fossil fuels (Sprinkle and Macleod, 1993; WMO, 1995; Gardner et al., 1996).

. May 8, 2016 at 4:19 pm

A round-trip flight between New York and Los Angeles on a typical commercial jet yields an estimated 715 kilos of CO2 per economy class passenger, according to the International Civil Aviation Organization. But due to the height at which planes fly, combined with the mixture of gases and particles they emit, conventional air travel has an impact on the global climate that’s approximately 2.7 times worse than its carbon emissions alone, says the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. As a result, that roundtrip flight’s “climatic forcing” is really 1,917 kilos, or almost two tons, of emissions—more than nine times the annual emissions of an average denizen of Haiti (as per U.S. Department of Energy figures).

Only 2-3 percent of the world’s population flies internationally on an annual basis, but the climate impacts of air travel are felt by a much larger—and poorer—population. It is difficult to illustrate the meaning of such numbers in terms of who among the planet’s citizens pays the costs.

. November 6, 2017 at 7:53 pm

For the love of Earth, stop traveling

Staying home, in fact, is the essence of making a big difference in a big hurry. That’s because nothing that we do pumps carbon dioxide into the atmosphere faster than air travel. Cancel a couple long flights, and you can halve your carbon footprint. Schedule a couple, and you can double or triple it.

Atmosfair is a German public interest group that recommends limiting your air travel to about 3,100 miles per year — if you live in Los Angeles, that’s one round-trip flight to Mexico City.

Minute by minute, mile by mile, nothing that we do causes greater or more easily avoidable harm to the environment than flying, which more often than not is optional or merely recreational.

Take a deep, slow breath, and throw away that bucket list for good. You are needed at home, my friend, urgently needed. For the love of the Earth and of those who will inherit it when you are gone, stay right where you are.

. November 14, 2017 at 7:32 pm
. August 28, 2018 at 3:11 pm
. May 22, 2019 at 4:57 pm

Could you give up flying? Meet the no-plane pioneers

Growing numbers of travellers are abandoning air travel to help save the planet – even if it means spending 14 days on a train

. June 4, 2019 at 1:02 pm
. January 19, 2020 at 4:26 am


Sweden’s government wants to provide viable alternatives to short-haul flights

. February 6, 2020 at 2:08 pm

The impossible task of reconciling internat’l tourism and climate change

52 Places to Go in 2020 is the latest New York Times international travel guide, and this year’s unspoken theme is “responsible tourism.” Read the piece […] and you might conclude the entire planet has morphed into one giant, eco-friendly playground, with new nonstop service to Ulaanbaatar and Lima making access easier than ever. It’s all bullshit, of course. A 2018 study (abstract; PDF) published in the journal Nature Climate Change announced tourism alone—that’s nonessential pleasure travel—is responsible for 8 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. The traveling public is freaking out. It knows about flight shaming (Guardian); it loves Greta Thunberg [….] But it still wants to sit on a beach in Aruba. Why Tourism Should Die—and Why It Won’t (New Republic)

. September 21, 2020 at 9:08 pm

Airbus reveals plans for zero-emission aircraft fuelled by hydrogen

Aviation firm announces three different concepts with aim of taking to the skies by 2035

. September 26, 2020 at 11:25 pm

Qantas offers a seven-hour flight to nowhere | CNN Travel

Climate campaigners condemn ‘joy flights’ for travellers who miss flying | Flights | The Guardian

. November 18, 2020 at 1:08 am

1% of people cause half of global aviation emissions – study | Business | The Guardian

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